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Museums Matter: Culture and the National Economy

Behind the often stunning facades of our museums, art galleries, cultural centres and design precincts reside powerful contributors to the Australian economy – and they don’t show any signs of stopping.

Museums Matter: Culture and the National Economy

A landmark investigation into Australia’s cultural output conducted by the Federal Government’s Department of Communications and the Arts just over two years ago demonstrated the incredible impact of arts, heritage, design and similar sectors on the national economy. In 2016-17 alone, these sectors contributed a robust $111.7 billion, equating to roughly 6.4 per cent of GDP.

Significant cultural and economic drivers, these organisations, museums and galleries bolster industries such as tourism, education and scientific research – with their influential role in Australia’s global standing receiving increased attention of late, even in times of worldwide uncertainty.


Dr Chau Chak Wing Museum

One of the highest-profile museum developments of recent times is the construction of Sydney’s Chau Chak Wing Museum. The museum building has been painstakingly crafted to display more of the University’s impressive collections and play its part in repositioning Sydney as a diverse and vibrant exhibition destination on the world stage.

Set in the University’s iconic inner-city campus, the museum spans art, science, history and ancient cultures. It sits on a site marked by Walter Burley Griffin when he laid out his blueprints to expand the University’s Camperdown campus. Much of what he planned never came to fruition, but 110 years later, the Chau Chak Wing Museum is fulfilling Griffin’s original vision.

The redeveloped facility reopened on November 18 and boasts vastly expanded exhibition space in which to house the University’s diverse Nicholson, Macleay and Art collections. Designed by Sydney’s Johnson Pilton Walker, the striking, almost brutalist concrete exterior of the museum’s main building overlooks the University quadrangle. Inside, the museum serves a multitude of purposes; a place of education, but also a cultural meeting place and a space for collaboration.


Sydney Modern: SANAA & AGNSW

View from Woolloomooloo. Image of the Sydney Modern Project produced by Kazuyo Sejima + Ryue Nishizawa / SANAA

Now a year into construction, the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ (AGNSW) ambitious Sydney Modern Project expansion is very much part of a global trend towards ‘starchitecture’. The concept – making the iconic building designs as much a part of the experience as what’s inside – stretches as far back as 1997, and as far as the Northern Coast of Spain.

That year, the coastal town of Bilbao in Spain’s Basque Country became an unexpected tourism phenomenon when doors opened on the majestic Frank Gehry Guggenheim Museum satellite. In 2012, Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa of Pritzker Prize-winning architecture studio SANAA – and the duo behind the Sydney Modern Project – erected the futuristic Louvre satellite in the French coal-mining town of Lens; followed by Jean Nouvel’s glittering Louvre Abu Dhabi five years later.

In NSW, taking the form of a series of pavilions slinking down the edge of the Domain toward Woolloomooloo, SANAA’s Sydney Modern design will double current exhibition space, connecting to surrounding parklands and public spaces, before a spiral staircase descends into a WWII oil tank revealing another 2,200sqm of subterranean gallery and performance space. “For a very long time, we have wanted to create in Sydney an inspiring building dedicated to art that will give visitors a special sense of place and an opportunity to experience the shared joy of art and ideas.” – said Kazuyo Sejima, SANAA Co-Founder.

In times of global uncertainty and economic downturn, initiatives like this one are even more critical, highlighting the overwhelming hope for an increased number of visitors – eloquently expressed by AGNSW Director, Michael Brand: “This architectural experience, landscape experience, it can bring in a broader audience who we can introduce to art in a variety of ways and hopefully turn those citizens into long-term art lovers.”

 Powerhouse Museum

On the other side of Sydney’s CBD, the Powerhouse Museum will reopen in 2023 across its existing site in Ultimo and a new site in Parramatta. Winning the hotly contested international competition, Paris-based Moreau Kusunoki and Genton’s elegant latticed design for the new Powerhouse Parramatta will provide generous public space, connecting the area’s evolving urban profile to the river. The porous ground plane will function as an “urban lounge room”, bringing visitors to the around-the-clock cultural, dining and entertainment hub.


The Heart and Soul of Museums

But while most will applaud the impressive architecture and beautifully appointed display spaces of these cultural linchpins, these institutions’ back-of-house storerooms and facilities are undergoing equally jaw-dropping transformations.

Often the real heart and soul of the iconic buildings, these spaces drive the long-term preservation of our nation’s priceless art and artefact holdings, ensuring their correct handling and safety for generations to come. And with their crucial role in preserving Australia’s cultural heritage, it’s no wonder that they’re slowly opening up to visitors curious about the operational side of such pertinent, majestic institutions.

Across Australia, CSM’s Cultural Collections specialists have worked with famed State and National museums, galleries and organisations as well as their equally important regional outposts, promoting smarter, future-forward and safer storage solutions. These include the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the Australian Museum and the State Library of New South Wales.

From custom solutions for unique and priceless artefacts of all scales, to a comprehensive fumigation, contaminant and climate-controlled storage system, CSM has been at the forefront of finding answers to protect and preserve Australia’s invaluable cultural and scientific possessions.

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